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2013 Observer Seniors of the Year

The ten Observer 2013 Seniors of the Year are doers who have tried new things, and those experiences have led to accomplishments. They represent The Observer’s diverse readership area, with achievements in academic research, innovative community service, personal triumph and the arts. Each receive a $1,000 scholarship as they head to colleges and universities

The Seniors of the Years were chosen from broader pool of All-Star Scholars and finalists from 85 schools in the Observer's coverage area. Read more at CharlotteObserver.com/youngachievers.


Constance Zhou

Charlotte Latin

College: Harvard University.

Parents: Leping Zhou and Jiamin Yue.

Highlights: Worked with researchers at N.C. Central University to find ways to diagnose Alzheimers disease early. From this research, helped publish a paper with her research mentor. Plays piano and cello and is in Charlotte Youth Symphony.

Her words: "I have a lot of energy and I like everything I do."

Her memento: A T-shirt from the March 2013 Julia Robinson Mathematics festival for middle school girls, which promotes girls' enthusiasm for math.


Katy Thompson

Hickory Ridge High

College: UNC Chapel Hill.

Parents: Rebecca Thompson and the late Wilson Thompson.

Highlight: Student Council, Beta Club, homecoming queen.

Her words: Since the death of her father in September, "I've had the realization I have to make the most of life and not take people for granted. It's shaped me into a stronger, more compassionate person."

Her memento: The Hickory Ridge yearbook from her junior year, when she was co-editor.


Justin Elliott

North Mecklenburg High

College: Duke University.

Parents: Bill and Vereda Elliott.

Highlights: Founder and president of the Physics Club; captain of boys varsity tennis team; International Baccalaureate tutoring; new student orientation leader. Won National Youth Leadership Award.

His words: "I realized I'm intelligent enough to help others. Why not expand and help others in the community? My purpose here on earth ... is to help others along the way."

His memento: The magazine in which he was named one of the Top 100 Young Black Men in Charlotte. He was nominated to participate and was chosen as an elite scholar and ranked No. 2.


Kaycee Gass

Lincoln Charter

College: Davidson College.

Parents: Joe and Angela Gass.

Highlight: Valedictorian; president of Environmental Club; cross country team, track team; volunteer for Special Olympics.

Her words: "You need to be able to use your time wisely. Otherwise you get overwhelmed, and it's not fun when it catches up to you."

Her memento: A sudoku book she's carried with her since ninth grade. The margins are full of notes from class and life: "It's been a constant in my life. I can look back in it and remember (specific) times."


Hannah Kessenich

Marvin Ridge High

College: University of Virginia, as an Echols Scholar.

Parents: Wes and Gigi Kessenich.

Highlight: Mu Alpha Theta, Beta Club, Science Olympiad, volunteered in Chilean orphanage.

Her words: "Success means fulfilling your whole potential. It doesn’t mean making a whole lot of money."

Her memento: A trophy from a Future Business Leaders of America national competition; her school placed sixth. The team is headed to Anaheim, Calif., in July for more competition.


Yeonsoo Sara Lee

Myers Park

College: Yale University.

Parents: Seok-Won and Boonda Lee.

Highlights: In to music of all types and plays classical piano. President of school International Baccalaureate Council and student liaison with Echo Foundation.

Her words: "My parents have always given me a sense that doing the right thing and being a good human being is more important than material success."

Her memento: A poster from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and a nametag that symbolize her journey through high school.


Maria Mazariegos

International Business and Communication Studies at Olympic High

College: Wingate University.

Parents: Wilson Mazariegos and Angelica Diaz.

Highlights: Class valedictorian. Tutored elementary school children; Beta Club, Key Club International.

Her words: "My main priority and job is to do well in school. I've tried my best to put all the distractions aside ... but ultimately it's for me. I like achieving."

Her memento: Her high school transcript. "It's an official document with all my efforts. I'm very proud of being ranked No. 1. To have it on a document is official."


Shiva Mohan

Fort Mill High

College: Clemson Honors College.

Parents: Gopal and Mathi Mohan.

Highlight: Class president in 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

His words: "I like to lead, but people won't follow you blindly. I like to help, too. That way people can see me out doing work, too ... I hope to have a national political career."

His momento: A booklet from S.C. Boys State, where he ran for governor and won, campaigning in a student body of 900.


Andrew Paluszak

East Gaston High

College: Appalachian State University.

Parents: Rita Paluszak and the late Charles Paluszak.

Highlight: Section leader and drum major with the marching band, director of the school's fall play 2012, youth and music ministries at church.

His words: "You always realize things when they're about to end."

His memento: His drum major cape and shako (plumed band hat). "Marching band for me got me into high school. I always felt comfortable in the band room or on the field."


Mary Thurman

Hickory Grove Christian

College: UNC Chapel Hill.

Parents: David and Mary Beth Thurman.

Highlights: Scored 2250 on the SAT test. Performed 146 hours of various community service activities. AP Scholar with Honor.

Her words: "Art, for me, is very social ... It's a connection point ... I tend to overthink things so much. For me, that's my version of being trapped within myself. Art lets me get it all out there and get it out of my head."

Her memento: The anime-style portrait of her that two young students at the Good Shepherd after-school program drew and colored on notebook paper. The program serves Vietnamese refugees, among others.


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